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Former CNN reporter released from having to give testimony

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Former CNN reporter released from having to give testimony

  • Prosecutors in a federal murder trial released former CNN reporter Jeff Flock from a judicial order requiring that he testify about his observations of the defendant’s “demeanor” during a 1999 interview.

April 22, 2004 — Prosecutors in Chicago on Tuesday released a former CNN correspondent from a federal judge’s order requiring that he testify in a solicitation of murder trial.

On April 6, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew P. Rodovich ordered Jeff Flock, a former reporter for CNN, to testify whether the defendant, Matthew Hale, broke down in tears at the end of a 1999 interview. Rodovich required Flock to testify after having found that the state reporter’s privilege did not protect journalists’ observations of people’s “demeanor.”

However, prosecutors decided on April 20 that Flock’s testimony would be duplicative and was therefore no longer necessary.

Hale, the leader of a white supremacist church in Chicago, is charged with obstruction and conspiring to murder a federal judge.

In the July 1999 CNN interview, Hale was asked how he felt about the actions of Benjamin Smith, one of his followers who went on a shooting rampage in 1999, killing two people and wounding nine others before committing suicide. Hale now alleges that he was very upset, and got emotional during the interview.

According to a videotape of a jailhouse visit between Hale and his father, Hale reminded his dad to tell the grand jury that he cried during the interview, and needed to take a break after the question was asked.

Prosecutors subpoenaed the interview tape last year and received it. Former CNN producer Tracey Scruggs testified in court on Tuesday that they never took a break during the interview, and Hale never cried. Unlike Flock, Scruggs volunteered to give testimony, according to Charles Tobin, CNN’s attorney.

Flock filed a motion to quash the subpoena for his testimony, arguing that it was unreasonable and oppressive, and that the reporter’s privilege applied. Rodovich, relying on the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Branzburg v. Hayes, wrote that a subpoena may not be used “to harass or otherwise interfere with a reporter’s confidential relationships or . . . use the media as an investigative tool.”

However, turning to a recent opinion written by Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (7th Cir.), Rodovich found “the information that Flock possesses is not necessarily ‘confidential,’ such that he should not be compelled to disclose it.”

Moreover, Rodovich held that Flock was “in a unique position, as the interviewer, to observe Hale’s demeanor during the interview” and that “it appears the government is seeking only Flock’s impressions of Hale’s demeanor and not any information concerning what Hale may have told Flock in confidence while the camera was not recording,” he said.

Charles Tobin, CNN’s attorney, said that he and the network are “pleased that the government was finally persuaded that they did not need to bother this journalist.”

(U.S. v. Hale, Media Counsel: Charles D. Tobin, Holland & Knight, Washington, D.C.) KM


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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